Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Where are today’s artistic manifestos?

The Futurism exhibition currently on at the Tate Modern in London (12 June - 20 September 2009) begins with Marinetti’s vehement 1909 manifesto adulating speed, war and mechanistic progress with unrelenting violence and machismo. From the very beginning we seem repelled by the exhibition’s protagonists. Marinetti calls for the destruction of museums, contempt for women, scorn for the past, militarism.

How then could this movement, so set on an absolute break with the past, turn to such traditional modes of expression as oil painting on canvas and bronze casting? These were the techniques of the Italian Renaissance: Donatello and Verrocchio produced monuments of bronze, while Titian and Veronese put brush to canvas. The Futurists, Italians themselves, had artistic ancestors in the geniuses of the Renaissance. The artistic methods they adopted were steeped in history, the very stuff of the passéisme that the Futurists seemed to abhor. Their style, both in sculpture and in painting is angular and masculine, their subject matter concerned with speed, movement, simultaneity, modern city life, but yet their choice of materials seems at odds with their central ethos. It may be that the Futurists, despite their ambitious manifesto, did not have the imagination to think that artistic expression could be found in anything other than oil paint and bronze. Though perhaps it is more likely that in choosing these materials the Futurists allowed their art to be readily recognised as art by the general public, allowing them to reach an audience who may have dismissed their work before even looking at it had it been expressed in a more ‘futuristic’ medium such as photography.

The Tate exhibition leads one through the spread of the movement from Italy to a wider Europe. One traipses through a succession of ‘isms’, each of which finds its root in Futurism, but takes on a new name and new guise in each country it inhabits: Cubism and Orphism in France, Cubo-Futurism in Russia, Vorticism in England ending on a room that looks at the Futurists’ depictions of war. Even with the outbreak of World War One Marinetti was not disillusioned, though to many it was clear that a utopian worship of war as 'the world's only hygiene' caused blindness to the true tragedy of conflict.

Marinetti’s manifesto therefore seems like a naïve but dangerous rant. Even so, it was the first of a line of similar expressions of belief. For we find the manifesto not only in Futurism, but in Dada, Surrealism, De Stijl and many other movements. The 1900s to the 1930s were rife with them. Though there have been notable revivals of this form, it is certainly not large feature of the artistic landscape of today. Have artists today lost that passion, that desire to rally together, that sharp politics that fuelled the age of the artistic manifesto? The notion of defining one’s artistic aims and one’s politics perhaps seems at odds with the artists of today who prefer their work to speak for itself rather than exist as part of a wider artistic campaign. Perhaps, cynically, they have lost their idealism and desire to conquer, for both the Futurists and the Surrealists certainly had a hungry, almost colonial, need to claim converts and ‘territory’ in their aesthetic quest. Yet, looking at the violent aims of the Futurists, perhaps it is no bad thing that we are not clamouring to copy them.

If you get to this exhibition let us know what you think.

Ruth Burgon
Image 1 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944)
Image 2 Luigi Russolo's The Revolt 1911 (Futurism)
Image 3 David Bomberg's The Mud Bath 1914 (Vorticism)

Friday, 14 August 2009

Art in Convalescence

‘Museums, like asylums and jails, have wards and cells – in other words, neutral rooms called “galleries.” A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world. A vacant white room with lights is still a submission to the neutral. Works of art seen in such spaces seem to be going through a kind of convalescence. They are looked upon as so many inanimate invalids, waiting for critics to pronounce them curable or incurable.’

So wrote the land artist Robert Smithson in 1972. These words cause our minds to wander through galleries we have visited, to re-examine mentally works of art we have encountered; were they invalids in a ward? Though he speaks of the galleries or museums that hold historical works of art, his criticism seems to lie in the neutrality of the spaces in which they are displayed.

The convention of a white walled gallery is so prevalent that often we do not question it, or ask ourselves what alternative means might be sought for display. A gallery always seems to be a bubble set apart from life itself, a place of hushed tones and reverence, a place which perhaps dampens the impact of the artworks it seeks to preserve and protect. Do the neutral white walls of the New Brewery Arts gallery suck the life from the pieces currently on display?

Though Smithson makes a valid point, it seems to me that it does not apply to the Brewery Arts gallery which, rather than ‘killing’ its objects with its white walls, seems to bring them to life. Natural light spills in from the windows and allows colours to glow and shapes to be defined.

Unlike many other galleries, it is not entirely cut off from the hustle and bustle of the outside world: the sounds of the café and the shop and the street float through the door. And the gallery is part of a larger complex of active studios inhabited by artists and craftspeople in which we can see works of art and beautiful objects coming into being, having life breathed into them. The works on display are fresh. The surrounding studios remind us of the immediacy of these works’ creation: the paint is almost still wet, the last stitch just done, the last notch just chiselled.

But, if you do think the pieces in the OPEN Competition are ‘inanimate invalids’, it is up to you to come and ‘pronounce them curable’ by voting in the Public Choice Award.

Ruth Burgon

Image 1 the NBA OPEN exhibition
Image 2 Jorgen Rosengaard's Indian Sommer
Image 3 Mary-Anne Morrison's Peelings

A fresh, new, all round 'art experience' for young people

Unfortunately, it seems that art is dwindling away as younger generations immerse themselves less and less into the exploration of art forms. New Brewery Arts opens up a window to an eclectic mix of food, art, and shopping as a way to get the public involved in art all over again.

Sitting at the desk in the gallery, which currently holds the New Brewery Arts OPEN competition, I find that hardly anyone younger than the age of 30 ventures in. I have no idea why, for the exhibit is fresh, explosive, and innovative. The first time I entered the gallery I was taken aback by the exquisite pieces it displayed. The exhibit boasted delicacies ranging from vibrant canvases to deep and penetrating photographs to tapestries. Each one unique in its design, but brought together by the theme of 'Crossings'.

So why should one leave the comfort of a warm bed, or the steady beat of a song resonating in your ears? Art is refreshing. It’s endlessly bursting the barriers of what is considered normal and branching out, eager to divulge a new part of life and bring new ones into existence. One feels a sense of wonder as one gazes upon the various exhibits, keen on exposing the multitude of secrets buried within. The New Brewery Arts OPEN exhibition is open to all and what is more - it’s free, something that I love - being a student and all. You can even interact with the art, as two of the pieces are films. As you meander through, take note of your favourite piece. You can vote for your favourite exhibit and the artist who wins this public choice award will win £500.

The gallery is open to all Monday – Saturday: 9am to 5pm and Sunday 10pm to 4pm. The exhibition ends 23 August, so get in quick before your chance to view these exquisite pieces fades away.

Bethany Haller

Image 1 by Tim Carroll in the NBA OPEN exhibition
Image 2 by Maurice Citron in the NBA OPEN

Thursday, 13 August 2009

What would you choose?

The OPEN exhibition at New Brewery Arts is in full swing, with votes piling in for the Public Choice Award. There is a fantastic diversity of pieces, from glassware to video, from charcoal to plastic, from abstract acrylics to figurative oils like John A Walker's Ferry Across The Mersey (shown).

Which makes us wonder - what do you like to see in a gallery? Outsider Art, Fine Art, light shows or sound? What floats your particular boat?